Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient: Piermont NH’s Nathaniel Churchill Barker (1836-1904)

A sketch of Sergeant Nathaniel C. Barker from Boston Herald (Boston MA), Thursday, October 14, 1897, page 9.

A sketch of Sergeant Nathaniel C. Barker from Boston Herald (Boston MA) in 1897, when he received his Medal of Honor.

The town of Piermont is celebrating the 250th anniversary of its founding this year (2014).   According to the Gazeteer of Grafton County NH by Hamilton Child, in 1880 Piermont had a population of 752 souls. By 2010 it had only 38 more residents for a total of 790.

Nathaniel Churchill Barker was born in that tiny New Hampshire town on 28 September 1836, the son of carpenter, Samuel Barker and his wife Sally Jackson. He received at least a basic education in the local schools before his family moved to Manchester, NH, evidenced by the diaries that he kept during the Civil War. Of the 3,464 Medals of Honor awarded to date, 1522 were awarded during the American Civil War. One of these recipients was Nathaniel C. Barker. 

According to his own account, at 16 years of age he went to work in the cotton mills in Manchester, New Hampshire.  His father was working as a carpenter, and each of his siblings had a different occupation–from his brother James who was a printer, to his sister Callista who was a tailoress.  Sometime between 1860 and 1867 he married Wealtha Melvin, daughter of Reuben & Giza (Smith) Melvin, who was living with the Barker family in 1860.  They had one child, Edgar G. Barker who was born in 1867 in Manchester, NH.

Wounded soldiers under trees, Marye's Heights, Fredericksburg. After the battle of Spotsylvania, 1864.Matthew Brady Photographs; Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, National Archives.

Wounded soldiers under trees, Marye’s Heights, Fredericksburg. After the battle of Spotsylvania, 1864.Matthew Brady Photographs; Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, National Archives.

When the Civil War broke out, Nathaniel, like many of the young men of Manchester, New Hampshire, enlisted.   On August 29, 1862, he enlisted as a member of  the 11th Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteers, and was assigned a corporal in Company E.  A year later, on 30 August 1863, he was promoted to sergeant.

The 11th NH Volunteer Regiment was involved in many battles and skirmishes. These included White Sulphur Springs, Fredericksburg Va; siege of Vicksburg, June 9 to July 4, 1863; Jackson, Miss., July 10 to 18, 1863; siege of Knoxville, and fight of Fort Sanders, Nov. 19 to Dec. 1 1863; Wilderness May 5 to 11, 1864; Spotsylvania, May 12 to 21, 1864; North Anna May 22 to 26, 1864; Gains’ Mill, Bethesda Church and Cold Harbor.

Spotsylvania was a bloody battle, with 30,0000 casualties. It was for bravery demonstrated during this battle that he considered for, and bestowed the highest award

Thomas Nast illustration published in the September 20, 1862 issue of Harper’s Weekly at Son of the South pictured the gallant color-bearer of the 10th New York. Library of Congress

Thomas Nast illustration published in the September 20, 1862 issue of Harper’s Weekly at Son of the South pictured the gallant color-bearer of the 10th New York. Library of Congress

for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States.  When he was interviewed years later, Nathaniel Barker explained to a reporter: “It was at the battle of Spotsylvania….We had been fighting all day, and had climbed up the ridge where the rebels were intrenched. The fighting was heavy and we had suffered considerable loss. Six color bearers had been shot down, until at last the man who bore the national color, and who was but a short distance from me, was mortally wounded and dropped with the flag. I picked it up and carried it for the rest of the day. I had no sooner caught up the national flag when the bearer of the State colors went down, and I also picked up those colors. I carried both of the flag through the remainder of the battle, and gave them up when new color-bearers were appointed the next day. That was all there was to it.

It was not only a great honor to carry the colors (flags) of one’s regiment, but it was also one of the most dangerous jobs to hold.  The flag bearer (or color bearer) was holding the visible symbol of the location of one’s regiment, a symbol of hope, and a great morale booster.  The men knew that picking up the flag could very well mean certain death, as they were prime targets for enemy sharpshooters.  That Nathaniel C. Barker carried both of the flags during a battle where 6 bearers had fallen before him, was a defining moment, and a proof of his courage.

After Spotsylvania, Nathaniel continued on with his regiment until the battle of Cold Harbor.  It was here that he was wounded, and subsequently was discharged May 25, 1863, not being considered fit for further service. (Editor’s Note: The History of the Eleventh New Hampshire Regiment, Volunteer Infantry by Leander Winslow Cogswell, indicates that Nathaniel Barker received a rifle ball to his hip, and the wound was considered “slight.”. He was then transferred to the field hospital and from there to the hospital at Washington. He eventually returned to Manchester NH,where he was discharged May 25, 1865.

Two of his brothers, John Barker and Jason Barker, were in the army.  The latter, Jason, as a member of 11th New Hampshire Volunteer Regiment, Company G, was at first reported missing, then deemed killed at Fredericksburg on 13 December 1862.

Nathaniel Barker burial location in Last Rest Cemetery, Merrimack NH.

Nathaniel Barker burial location in Last Rest Cemetery, Merrimack NH.

Following his discharge from the army,  Nathaniel C. Barker stated that he was a “turnkey” (jailer) of the Hillsborough county jail for 18 months. He and his family moved back to Piermont NH (found there in 1870 census) and then to Somerville later in 1870, where he joined the hook and ladder company (Ladder 1).  In 1871 and in 1877 became assistant chief. He was also superintendent of the street watering department, and a member of Willard C. Kinsley post, 139, G.A.R. of Somerville.

In 1897 he received a notification from the United States Secretary of War that he was to received the Congressional Medal of Honor.  That correspondence read: “Congressional Medal of Honor for Most Distinguished Gallantry in Action. At Spotsylvania, May 12, 1864, this soldier, then a Sergeant in Company E., Eleventh New Hampshire Volunteers, having taken the place of one of the color bearers who had been killed, and seeing the bearer of the other regimental flag shot down, seized the fallen standard and throughout the remainder of the battle carried both the national and State colors. Six color bearers of his regiment were killed or wounded before Sergt. Barker voluntarily took the flags. He was also wounded in a later action.”
Signed by: R.A. Alger, Secretary of War
To: Nathaniel C. Barker, Esq.
Dated: September 1, 1897

Nathaniel told a reporter: “I did not think that there was anything to it, and the first that I knew that I was to receive a medal was when I received a notice from the Secretary of War, a few days ago, saying that I had been awarded a medal, and that it would be forwarded as soon as it was engraved.”

On October 13, 1897 Nathaniel C. Barker finally received his award.   According to  The

Close up of tombstone of Nathaniel C. Barker, Medal of Honor recipient.

Close up of tombstone of Nathaniel C. Barker, Medal of Honor recipient.

Boston Journal, the “presentation took place last evening in the rooms of the Veteran Rights Union, 27 Pemberton Square, by courtesy of Col. Charles Hapgood.  The affair was under the auspices of the Massachusetts Association of New Hampshire Veterans and  about 75 ladies and gentlemen were present. Soldiers’ wives, duaghters and sons had been invited to come and many were there.
   After a supper served from 7 to 8 o’clock, the comrades and the ladies seated themselves in the rooms of the union. President N.P. Murphie of the association presided. The exercises opened with a banjo solo by Edgar C. Barker, a son of the Sergeant, followed by a reading by Kate Belle Walton, patriotic reader.
  Chaplain Will C. Wood was then presented, and made a neatly worded speech, in which he detailed the brave act of Sergeant Nat. Barker. He said that the hero of the occasion did not seem to feel that he had done anything out of the ordinary. He said to the rest of the boys, “I just thought there was something to be done, and I did it–that’s all.”  (Applause). Chaplain Wood then called for Sergeant Barker.  The gallant veteran was escorted to the front by two comrades, who are both wearers of the medal of honor.  With his tall, thin figure, somewhat bent by age, and plainly dressed, his hair and beard pure white, Sergeant Barker was not an imposing figure in appearance. He was loudly applauded as he stepped forward.
  Comrade Joseph S. Manning of Company K., Twenty-ninth Massachusetts Regiment, and Henry W. Rowe of the Eleventh Main Regiment acted as his escort.
  When the medal was pinned on the breast of Sergt. Barker by Chaplain Wood there was a loud clapping of hands. The Sergeant evidently felt called upon to say something. He stated that in the army he was known as “the silent man,” and he was not much more of a talker now.  He thanked the comrades sincerely for what they had done for him in obtaining the medal. He promised to try and never do anything to bring disgrace upon it.
  Three cheers were called for by Chaplain Wood and the comrades present cheered lustily with a final tiger.  Sergt. Barker had his hand shaken by nearly everyone present, and his medal was much admired.
  Brief speeches were also made by Comrade O.W. Dimock, Col. Hapgood, Comrade D.C. Linehan of the Twenty-Eighth Massachusetts, Comrade DIckerman of the Eleventh New Hampshire, and Mr. James Devlin of Somerville, where Sergt. Barker also lives.  Letters of regret were read from John C. Linehan of New Hampshire, Mayor Perry of Somerville, L.W. Coggswell and R.B. Brown of Haverhill.

Military marker for Nathaniel Barker at Last Rest Cemetery, Merrimack NH.

Military marker for Nathaniel Barker at Last Rest Cemetery, Merrimack NH.

After receiving his award, Nathaniel C. Barker continued to live in Somerville, Massachusetts at 12 Ellsworth Street.  He died on 7 March 1904, and his wife followed him on 28 June 1908.  They are both buried in Last Rest Cemetery in Merrimack, New Hampshire in Wealtha’s family’s plot.  Their son, Edgar soon joined them, dying at the age of 47 in 1915.  He had remained single and continued to live in the Somerville home, having been made an officer of the French Academy for his services to the French government while acting as its consul.

Three of Nathaniel C. Barker’s diaries, recording events during his Civil War service,  recently were auctioned and sold for $4,112.50.

=====PARTIAL GENEALOGY OF NATHANIEL C. BARKER=====

Samuel Barker, son of Nathaniel/Nathiel/Asa & Sally (Roe/Rowe) Barker, was b abt 1808 NH, and died 21 October 1882 in Piermont NH, age 74; He m1st) 7 Oct 1833 at Bradford VT to Sarah “Sally” Jackson. She b. abt 1808 NH. She is probably the Mrs. Sally Barker who died 28 September 1862 in Piermont NH of typhoid fever. They resided in Piermont NH and Manchester NH. His occupation carpenter. In 1854 living in Manchester NH house on Central Street, north of Pine, in 1858 at 20 Central Street; in 1860 at 22 Laurel Street.  By 1870 had removed to Piermont NH. Samuel m2) 21 July 1863 in Piermont NH to widow Lydia A. Smith, dau of Elisha & Sarah (Crocker) Abbott.  She m1st) 1 Jan 1833 in Lebanon NH to Roswell Smith. Samuel married 3d) 21 August 1879 in Piermont NH to widow Elvira Underhill, dau of Joseph Mack. She was b. abt 1823, and had married 1st) 3 March 1844 in Piermont NH to George Underhill, son of Nathaniel & Esther (Carr) Underhill.  In 1870 he was living with Lydia in Piermont NH.
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1860 US Census > NH > Hillsborough > Manchester
Samuel Barker M 52 Carpenter 200 NH
Sarah Barker F 52 NH
James Barker M 25 NH printer
Nathaniel Barker M 23 NH laborer
Calistine Barker F 19 NH tailoress
Jason Barker M 15 NH
Jane Barker F 13 NH
Arthur Barker M 9 NH
John Barker M 27 NH farmer
Wealthy Melvin F 22 NH ?shaver
——————–
Children of Samuel & Sarah E. (Jackson) Barker:
1. James J. Barker b abt 1835 Piermont NH or Bradford VT; m. 30 March 1862 in Manchester NH to Sarah J. Wilson, dau of William & Mary E. (?) Wilson.
2. +Nathaniel Barker, b. 28 September 1836 Piermont NH [this article is written about him, see above and below]
3. Callista A. “Calistine” Barker, b abt 1841 NH; m. 9 October 1861 in Chester NH to Orin/Orren/Orrin Tabor. Male Tabor b. 3 Dec 1865 Manchester NH. He was Quartermaster Sargent and promoted to Second Lieutenant in the Union Army, 1st Regiment, New Hampshire Heavy Artillery, Company M. [Orrin Taber]. They removed to San Jose California by 1880 where he was a dealer in agricultural implements. Children: (1) Charles Taber; (2) Orrin Taber b 20 Aug 1869 Manchester NH, died 4 April 1917 in San Francisco, California. He married Myra Thompson, daughter of John D. & Emma Thompson, and had children Dorothy Barker,  and Anita Barker (m. White); (3) Lena Taber ; (4) Lena M. Taber; (5) Laura J. Taber; (6) Harry W. Taber [child 3-6 b. California].
4. John A. Barker, b 1 May 1842 Landaff NH; d. 22 Sep 1907 in Manchester NH. According to his brother, he served in the Union Army during the Civil War. He worked as a city messenger at City Hall. He boarded at 28 Amoskeag corp on Market Street, Manchester.
5. Jason S. Barker b abt 1844 NH; Enlisted in Company G, New Hampshire 11th Infantry Regiment on 02 Sep 1862.Mustered out on 13 Dec 1862 at Fredericksburg, VA. Boston Traveler newspaper of Dec 16, 1862 lists him as the 11th NH Infantry, Missing. According to an interview with his brother Nathaniel, he was killed at Fredericksburg.
6. Jane P. Barker, b abt 1847 Landaff NH; m. 8 May 1866 in Manchester NH to Adna Chase, son of Moody & Elmina (Kendrick) Chase. He m2) 10 Sep 1879 in Lyme NH to Caroline L. Grant, dau of Sidney S. & Louise S. (Turner) Grant. He died 7 March 1920 in Lyme NH
7. Artemus Charles “Arthur” Barker, b abt 1851 Landaff NH; died 27 May 1904 in Manchester NH; married ; buried Pine Grove Cemetery Manchester NH. In 1899 he was a member of Engine Company No. 1 in Manchester NH. Driver of Engine Company No. 1, Manchester Fire Department

Nathaniel Churchill Barker, son of Samuel & Sarah (Jackson) Barker, was b 28 Sep 1836 (1837 per death certificate) in Piermont NH and died 7 March 1904 in Somerville MA. At that time he was living at 12 Ellsworth Street in Somerville MA, married, assistant Fire Dept. Chief. He married Wealtha A. “Wealthy” Marvin, dau of Reubin & Gizza/Giza/Grisey M. (Smith) Marvin. She was born 9 May 1839 in Londonderry NH and died 28 June 1908 in Dover MA. Both are buried in Merrimack NH at Last Rest Cemetery. Her sister Mrs. Richardson was informant of her death record. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions at the battle of Spotsylvania, and  he received a military pension.
———————-
1850 US Census > NH > Hillsborough > Merrimack
Reubin Melvin 37 M Farmer 1800 [b abt 1813, son of John & Elizabeth (Smith) Melvin, d. 3 June 1887 in Merrimack NH; he m. 15 Nov 1836 in Antrim NH to Grisey M. Smith.  He m2) 20 Oct 1846 in Hudson NH to Mary Butler/Butter]
Mary B Melvin 36 F NH
William P. Melvin 13 NH
Wealthy Ann Melvin 11 NH
Martha Jane Melvin 9 F NH
Reuben A. Melvin 7 M NH [b Londonderry NH son of Reuben Melvin & Gizzie Smith, d. 16 June 1887 in North Salem NH]
Mary A. Melvin 1 F NH
Angeline E. Melvin 6/12 F NH
Mary W. Hutchinson 78 F NH
——————–
1870 US Census > NH > Grafton > Piermont
Barker, N.C. 33 M W Merchant 2300 NH
Barker, Wealtha A 31 F W Keeping House NH
Barker, Edgar C. 2 M W
—-living nearby—
Barker, Samuel 62 M W Carpenter 600/400 NH
Barker, Lydia 61 F W keeping House NH
——————–
1880 US Census > MA > Middlesex > Somerville
Nath’L C Barker Self M 43 NH carpenter
Wealthy A. Barker Wife F 41 NH [b abt 1839 NH]
Edgar C. Barker son M 12 NH [b abt 1868 NH]
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Burial Spot of Nathaniel C. Barker
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Boston Herald (Boston NH) Page 11, Tuesday June 30, 1908
DIED BARKER–At Dover, Mass., June 28, Wealtha A., widow of Nathaniel C. Barker, late assistant chief of the Somerville fire department. Funeral at her late residence, 12 Ellsworth st., Somerville, Wednesday, July 1 at 3 PM. Interment at Merrimack, N.H.
———————-
Boston Herald (Boston MA) March 30, 1915, page 6: DEATHS — Capt. Edgar C. Barker
Capt. Edgar C. Barker who was made an officer of the French Academy for his services to the French government while acting as its consul at this port, died yesterday after three months’ illness at his home, 12 Ellsworth stgreet, Somerville. He was born 47 years ago in New Hampshire, the son of the late Nathaniel C. Barker, for many years assistant fire chief of Somerville, and had lived in Somerville since he was two years of age. For 25 years he was in the office of the French consul here, and in 1896, when the late Duncan Bailly Blanchard was made head of the French consular service, Capt. Barker was recognized as his official representative in Boston. Two years later, when the war broke out with Spain, and the Spanish consul left this port, the affairs of the Spanish consulate were placed in his charge. The service which won him an officer’s rank in French Academy came when he was acting as agent for a line of French steamships and managing the affairs of the consulate as well. It is said to have prevent a serious international dispute, and the French government recognized his efforts by conferring on him a decoration that is rarely given to an American citizen outside of the diplomatic corps. He was commander of the Maj. John A. Cummings Camp, Sons of Veterans, and was its treasurer at the time of his death. He was a member of the Sons of Veterans’ Club of Massachusetts, a for district aid of the Massachusetts division, a member of the Massachusetts district council, and an ex-president of the Past Commanders’ Association of Sons of Veterans. His other memberships were in the Paul Revere Lodge of Odd Fellows. Winter Hill Improvement Association. Somerville Veteran Firemen’s Association, Somerville Board of Trade and Somerville Fourth of July Association. He had no near relatives living.
—————————
Child of Nathaniel C. & Wealthy (Marvin) Barker:
1. Edgar C. Barker, b. 2 June 1867 in Manchester NH; d. 29 March 1915 in Somerville MA; single

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